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Israel: Racist, Violent policing is at the heart of apartheid

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Police made sweeping arrests of Israel's large minority of Palestinian citizens after protests rocked the country in May during Israel's 11-day attack on Gaza. Officers were documented beating demonstrators and in some cases torturing them while in detention. Police also failed to protect the Palestinian minority from planned, vigilante-style attacks by far-right Jewish extremists.

This was the damning verdict of an Amnesty International report published last week. The findings indicate that Israeli police view the country's Palestinian minority, a fifth of the population, as an enemy rather than as citizens with a right to protest.

The report echoes what Palestinian leaders in Israel and local human rights groups have long said: that the default policing of the Palestinian community in Israel is racist and violent. It reflects the same values of Jewish supremacism seen in the Israeli army's brutal treatment of Palestinians under occupation.

The contrast between how police responded to protests by Palestinian citizens and supportive statements from their leaders, on the one hand, and to incitement from Israeli Jewish leaders and a violent backlash from the Jewish extreme right, on the other, is stark indeed.

More than 2,150 arrests were made following May's inter-communal violence. But according to reports cited by Amnesty, more than 90 percent of those detained were Palestinian - either citizens of Israel or residents of occupied East Jerusalem.

Most face charges unrelated to attacks on people or property, despite how their demonstrations were widely portrayed by police and the Israeli media. Rather, Palestinian protesters were indicted on charges such as "insulting or assaulting a police officer" or "taking part in an illegal gathering" - matters related to the repressive policing faced by the Palestinian minority.

'Torture room'

Amnesty cites repeated examples of unprovoked police assaults on peaceful protesters in cities such as Nazareth and Haifa. That contrasts with the continuing indulgence by police of provocations by the Jewish far-right, such as their march through Palestinian neighbourhoods of occupied East Jerusalem on 15 June, during which participants chanted "Death to Arabs" and "May your village burn."

Amnesty also documents testimony that Israeli police beat bound detainees in Nazareth's police station setting up what the local legal rights group Adalah has described as an improvised "torture room".

In addition, a protester in Haifa appears to have been tied to a chair and deprived of sleep for nine days using torture techniques familiar to Palestinians in the occupied territories.

In contrast, Israeli police were alerted in real time to messages from Jewish far-right groups about precise plans to smash up "Arab" shops and assault Palestinian citizens on the street. And yet police either ignored those warnings or were slow to respond. An investigation by Haaretz has further suggested that police subsequently failed to use film footage to identify these Jewish vigilantes and, as a result made few arrests.

This picture of police turning a blind eye to planned Jewish violence echoes scenes from the time of the protests. Footage showed police officers allowing armed Jewish thugs - many bused in from settlements - to wander freely around Palestinian neighbourhoods during a curfew on the city of Lod. There was even footage of police and Jewish far-right extremists conducting what looked like joint "operations" with police throwing stun grenades as Jewish extremists threw stones.

Jewish politicians who incited against the Palestinian minority - from Israel's former president, Reuven Rivlin, and Lod's mayor, Yair Revivo, to far-right legislator Itamar Ben-Gvir - have faced no consequences.

Charged with 'terror acts'

Instead, police arranged what amounted to a provocative, entirely unnecessary assault by special forces on the home of a Palestinian community leader, Kamal al-Khatib, to arrest him. The deputy head of the northern Islamic Movement was charged with supporting terrorism after he expressed pride at what he called the minority's solidarity with the people of Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem.

And last week, apparently too late for inclusion in the Amnesty report, Israel's racist policing moved in new directions.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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